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Racer Profile: Steve Park

By Allen Madding

Born August 23, 1967 in East Northport, NY, Steve Park began "playing" with go-karts at age 12. By the time he turned 16, he had moved to four-cylinder cars. Parks first real break in racing came when his father’s ARCA schedule forced him to miss a qualifying race one night at Riverhead. He needed someone to qualify the car and turned to Steve, his 17-year-old son. Since they took only six of the eight cars in the qualifying race, young Steve Park had his work cut out for himself. He quickly rose to the occasion, securing the final spot. His father, Bob, was delighted, arriving in time and to replace Steve before the race.

Park moved on to racing open wheel modifieds. Competing in his own cars, Park won his first modified event in 1988 and then won five events in 1989. "When I was racing modifieds I set a goal of either being in or on my way to Winston Cup racing by the time I was 30," recalled Park. To reach that goal, Park sold all of his modified equipment and purchased a used Busch Grand National car, which he and his father worked on all winter.

They took the car to the 1990 NASCAR Busch Grand National Series season opener in Daytona and missed qualifying for the event by one position.

After Daytona, the father and son duo took the Busch car to Richmond and a few other races. A blown engine at the New Hampshire race and no sponsorship ended the hopes of competing in the Busch Series. Dejected and broke, Park returned home with his father and began working on his father’s modified. He held a day job in an automotive repair shop. Modified car owner Curt Chase asked Park to drive his car for one race at Riverhead. Park jumped at the opportunity. The two quickly struck an agreement putting Park behind the wheel of Chase Racing modifieds for the entire 1991 season. Shortly thereafter Park found his way back to victory lane.

In 1993, Park moved to driving for TG Racing winning four times and ten more times in 1994. In 1995, he moved to Sheba Racing and scored seven wins. In 1996, Park and Sheba racing collected another five wins. The same year, Park began competing on the NASCAR Busch North Series. Park competed in 11 events with the Busch North Series and won two events, Nazareth and New Hampshire. He started 11th in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at Indianapolis Raceway Park that year and finished in the 11th position. His efforts must have paid off, Joe Nemechek asked Park to qualify his truck at the Watkins Glen event as Nemechek was doing double duty that weekend racing at Bristol in the Winston Cup Series as well. Nemechek’s request was simple - just make the field. Park did even better. He qualified on the pole for the event.

1996 had gotten to be a busy year for Steve Park, racing modifieds, Busch North cars and the occasional truck events. One night in a hurry to get ready to go to a race, he quickly checked his phone messages. One of the messages was from Dale Earnhardt. A few days later, Park was on Earnhardt’s private plane headed to Mooresville to talk to the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Champion. After meeting, the two struck an agreement putting Park in Earnhardt’s Busch car for the 1997 season. Park went on to win three times in the Busch series that year and win the title of NASCAR Busch Grand National Series Rookie of the Year.

Earnhardt was so pleased with Park’s performance that he put together a Winston Cup team with Pennzoil and named Park the driver for the 1998 season. In 1998, Park was competing with Kenny Irwin, Jr. for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year title. But the title hopes withered early in the season after Steve suffered a broken right femur, a broken left shoulder blade, left collarbone and two chipped front teeth in a severe crash during practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

In 2000, Park won his first NASCAR Winston Cup event at Watkins Glen. Together Park and the DEI team accumulated a total of 13 top-ten finishes and six top-five's. The team placed 11th in the points standings at the end of the season.

In 2001, Dale Earnhardt was tragically killed in a racing accident at the season opening Daytona 500. With heavy hearts, Park and the DEI team pushed on to perform for their fallen team owner. The next week, Park won the Winston Cup Series event at Rockingham.

"Dale was more than my car owner, he was a close personal friend. I learned more than what it meant to be a Winston Cup driver from him, I learned what a friend can be. I will miss him deeply", said Park.

In September 2001, Park survived a vicious accident in the No. 31 Whelen Busch Series car. Park suffered a moderate concussion and had to sit out the rest of the 2001 racing season as well as the first few races of the 2002 season to recover. Steve launched his return to Winston Cup racing in March 2002 at Darlington where he qualified fourth. The season ended somewhat dismally with only two top-ten finishes and 33rd in Winston Cup points. The 2003 season was bleak as well and DEI released Park in May. Richard Childress immediately hired Park to drive the No. 30 AOL Chevrolet. Unfortunately things did not fair well with RCR either and Park was released at the end of the season.

In 2004, Park joined Orleans Racing as the driver of the No. 62 Dodge in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, replacing Brendan Gaughan who was moving up to the Cup Series. Park quickly posted 4th place finishes in the Black Cat Fireworks 200 at Milwaukee and in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas. Park bettered that performance recording a third place finish in the Las Vegas 350. Park finished the 2004 season recording 25 starts in the Truck Series with five top-fives and ten top-tens. Park quickly scored a win in the second Truck event of 2005, the American Racing Wheels 200 at Fontana, California. Park’s final race driving the Orleans Racing Dodge would be the Las Vegas 250 in September 2005. The team announced in October prior to the Truck Series event at Martinsville that it was releasing Park immediately. In 20 starts with the Orleans Racing team in 2005, Park had recorded one win, two top-fives, and four top-tens.

Park wheeled Ted Marsh’s No. 31 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet in six NASCAR Busch Series events in 2006. He drove James Harris’ No. 59 Harris Trucking/Melling Engine Parts Ford and Dodge in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series recording a tenth place finish in the City of Mansfield 250.

Career Acomplishments:
  • 1997 NASCAR Busch Grand National Series Rookie of the Year
  • Cup Series career to date: 181 starts, two wins, 12 top-fives, 35, top-tens, and four poles
  • Busch Series career to date: 56 starts, three wins, 15 top-fives, 29 top-tens, and one pole
  • Truck Series career to date: 61 starts, one win, eight top-fives, 16 top-tens
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